By Dana Mattioli and Eyk Henning
Praxair Inc. moved to restart negotiations with Germany's Linde AG over a combination that would create a $60 billion industrial-gas giant, two months after previous talks dissolved.
Praxair approached Linde last week and negotiations could begin soon, according to people familiar with the matter. Linde may not agree to resume talks, one of the people cautioned, and a deal is far from guaranteed.
The companies, each worth about $30 billion, were nearing an agreement to combine before talks broke down in September. The effort, which had been under way for two months, stalled in part because Munich-based Linde was uncomfortable with a plan to move the combined company's European headquarters to the U.S., people familiar with the matter said at the time. These people said then that the companies could ultimately return to the negotiating table.
There is no guarantee antitrust regulators would approve a merger agreement, which could create the world's largest industrial-gas producer.
The collapse of the last round of talks sparked turmoil in Linde's executive ranks. Chief Executive Wolfgang Büchele announced he wouldn't seek a new term when his contract expires next April.
"In my professional career, I have always measured myself according to my ability to attain the objectives I set," he said in a statement at the time. "Based on that, I was personally disappointed that I could not reach the goal of creating the number one globally." Linde also saidits chief financial officer, Georg Denoke, had left the company.
The executives had differences of opinion regarding the plan to combine with Praxair, people familiar with the matter have said. Mr. Denoke sided with labor representatives on the supervisory board in opposing the deal, these people said.
The company hasn't named permanent replacements for either man.
The last round of talks called for a 50/50 ownership split with Praxair Chairman and Chief Executive Steve Angel as leader of the combined entity, which was to be based at Praxair's headquarters in Danbury, Conn. Linde's supervisory board chairman Wolfgang Reitzle was expected to become chairman of the merged company.
Linde and Praxair have long pondered a merger.
What is now called Praxair was once part of Linde. Founded as its American arm in 1907 and then known as Linde Air Products Co., the company developed so rapidly that by World War I it was bigger than the German parent, according to Linde's website. In the early part of last century, Linde Air Products was acquired by Union Carbide Corp., which spun the company off in 1992 and named it Praxair. Union Carbide is now part of Dow Chemical Co. Praxair has 26,000 employees in more than 50 countries.
In May, two major rivals of the companies combined, setting off another possible wave of consolidation in an industry hit by declining energy prices and sluggish economic growth. Air Liquide SA bought Airgas Inc. for about $10 billion, enabling the French company to reclaim the No. 1 spot among makers of gases used in manufacturing, food production, health care and the like, with annual revenue of more than $20 billion.
Linde, which makes industrial and medical gases and builds plants for chemical producers and others, had taken the No. 1 position from Air Liquide with its $14 billion takeover of the U.K.'s BOC PLC in 2006. A combined Linde and Praxair would again leapfrog Air Liquide, creating a company with more than $30 billion in revenue -- before any divestitures.
When the talks broke down, Linde said there was still a strategic rationale for the tie-up. Combining the companies was expected to result in more than $1 billion in annual cost savings and other so-called synergies, a person familiar with the matter said then.
Since then, Linde's shares have outperformed Praxair's, which could encourage the German company to return to the negotiating table
Write to Dana Mattioli at email@example.com and Eyk Henning at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 29, 2016 13:36 ET (18:36 GMT)
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